The king of herbal/fruit teas

I’m now coming up to my first anniversary of being caffeine-free – I had my last cup of caffeinated coffee on Dec 31st last year, and haven’t had any all this year. My only caffeine intake has been the trace amounts in decaf coffee, and even then I very rarely have more than one cup in day, often going a week or more without that.

The upshot is that I’ve become a connoisseur of herbal tea.

at the very bottom of the pile of so-called fruit teas is the Lipton mint-tea that you get in road-side cafes and cafes in the south of France. It’s shit, like some straight black tea that someone has dribbled into after chewing spearmint gum. Filth, and not fit to be thought of as mint-tea.

In the more than acceptable category come the likes of Heath And Heather and Twinings – both make a fine mint tea, and are to be celebrated when offered in a cafe or restaurant, fo’ sho’.

However, the king of herb and fruit tea is definitely Dr Stuart – I dunno what the good doctor does to make his tasty teas all the more tasty and infused with delicious tea-ness, but he’s doing it right, and it works for me. His mint tea is more minty, his peach spice is both spicy and peachy, and all the others I’ve tried have been much lovely too. Definitely just what the doctor ordered.

'…fire in the sky'

How on earth did no-one get killed???

A fuel depot in Hemel Hempstead blows up, the blast is heard IN FRANCE (!!), windows and doors are blown out in houses surround the site, and yet no-one is killed. That’s amazing. A lot of amazing unthinkable things have happened in Britain of late. That no-one died in this disaster is one of the best bits of news for a long time. The blast itself is clearly not good news – the environmental impact is going to be outrageous, not to mention the huge disruption to those whose houses have been damaged in the blast – but the zero loss of life is amazing. Apparently there have only been two serious casualties so far.

The fire services are warning of potential further explosions, while the firemen and women are there working like mad to get the fire under control and out – that’s got to be one scary job! Hurrah for the fire-service.

Reports suggest that some people have been panic buying petrol, afraid of a shortage, even though a) most of the fuel burning is aviation fuel b) it’s only the fifth largest depot in the country c) if there’s a fuel shortage, USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT – don’t drive to the petrol station to make the situation worse, you morons.

SoundtrackStuart Ryan, ‘The Coast Road’ (fabulous solo acoustic guitarist – he played at the Eric Roche tribute gig last week, and was one of Eric’s favourite guitarists. From this CD, it’s easy to see why).

the Vortex

Been spending far too much time at The New Vortex this last couple of weeks – last week I was there for Dudley Philips album launch gig, then Tuesday I went to see Lleuwen Steffan and her band. Last night was the Works.

Lleuwen is the singer on that welsh hymns album I was raving about last week – still getting lots of airplay here, definitely in my top 5 of the year. The gig on Tuesday was with her band, Acoustique, which featured, unbenownst to me until I got there, my buddy Owen Lloyd Evans on bass. Their set didn’t feature any of the hymn tunes, but did have a lot of originals, sung in Welsh that sounded a bit like a more funky, acoustic Bjork. Lovely stuff. They did a couple of standards, which were fine, but it was the welsh language stuff that really shone. Definitely one to look out for and see if you can.

the Works, formerly known as WoodWorks, is Patrick Wood’s marvellous band – Patrick is surprisingly little-known on the London jazz scene, despite his band acting as breeding ground for so many great musicians in the city – the list of who’s been in the band at one time or another is nuts, from John Etheridge to Andy Gangadeen, Cleveland Watkiss to Tony Remy.

The current line-up is Patrick on keys and guitar, Mark Lockheart on saxes and bass clarinet, Neville Malcom on bass and Nic France on drums. The tunes are lovely open forms that the band jam on and stretch out live – lots of eye contact and hardcore listening going on. The small audience were much appreciative, and hopefully they’ll be playing again soon so you can go see them too!

Both these gigs are yet more evidence that the London jazz scene is producing music of a quality to rival any jazz city on the planet. the Vortex is such a vital venue, and after the sadness of the original vortex closing, it’s great to have it back with the same eclectic booking policy in a great new venue in Stoke Newington. check out their online programme on the website and go see some stuff there!

I’ll almost certainly be back there tonight for Ingrid Laubrook’s quartet, featuring the marvellous Seb Rochford on drums.

And keep an eye out for Theo and I playing there in February.

Plan for today – some teaching this morning, Theo round this afternoon to plan our february tour promotion etc. Some bass practice/R&D for the album after that, and then to see Ingrid play tonight.

Soundtrack – The Pixies, ‘Bossanova’.

Dudley Philips at the Vortex last night

Yesterday day time was spent finishing off the mastering of Julie McKee’s live album from the Edinburgh Festival. Julie’s a fabulous singer – we’ve been working on some duet ideas between doing the mastering, the latest of which is to do the entire soundtrack to ‘Bugsy Malone’…! the mastering went pretty well, considering the source material. Sadly, the guy who recorded it didn’t send the multitrack sessions, just his own mixdown, so we were limited in terms of what we could do, but some compression, stereo expansion, judicious reverb and the tidying up of the bits where the recording had clipped have made it just fine. We compared it to a few other live recordings, from Donny Hathaway’s live album to my first album, and it stands up well, despite the odd pop ‘n’ crackle. Anyway, isn’t that what live albums are all about? There’s squealing feedback in the middle of Bob Marley’s live version of ‘No Woman No Cry’ and that was released as single!

Anyway, that was the daytime. Yesterday evening involved a trip down to The New Vortex in Stoke Newington to see Dudley Philips launch his album Life Without Trousers. I’ve had a copy of the album for a few weeks, and am loving it, so was excited to go and see the gig. The place was pleasingly full, lots of musicians in – Julie McKee, Orphy Robinson, Filomena Campus, John Parricelli and others, as well as friends of Dudley’s there to celebrate the album coming out.

The gig was marvellous – Nic France, Mark Lockheart and Carl Orr were the band, along with Dudley on 4/6 string electric and upright bass. great tunes, great playing, all in all a fab night out. The Vortex is such a great venue, and a vital part of the london jazz scene. I’ll be back down there next Thursday to see the Works – Patrick Wood’s band who played such a spellbinding set at Greenbelt in the summer. Please come down if you can! While you’re at it, check out the rest of the programme for December on the Vortex website, they’ve got so much great stuff on!

I also picked up a new CD while I was there, which was playing before the gig – it’s a collection of hymns sung in welsh, by LLeuwen Steffan, Huw Warren and Mark Lockheart. A truly beautiful album, on the oh-so-cool Babel Label – Babel are putting out so many great albums of late, go and check out their website and have a browse around. Marvellous stuff!

SoundtrackSteffan/Warren/Lockheart, ‘God Only Knows’.

A very fine Big Idea

never let it be said that Britain doesn’t have a vibrant and burgeoning jazz scene.

Mark Lockheart is one of the busiest and most respected sax players in the country, and for his current tour he’s assembled a fantastic group featuring four marvellous saxophonists with a killer rhythm section. It’s pretty rare to see four sax players in a contemporary jazz setting in the UK – it’s not often that anyone can afford to take that kind of project on the road, but Mark has managed it.

Due to my having a gig on the same night, I won’t be able to make it to the London gig next thursday, so last night, Orphy and I headed out to Oxford to see ‘Mark Lockheart’s Big Idea’ play at The Spin, a weekly jazz gig at The Wheatsheaf in Oxford. I’d heard a lot about the gig from friends who’d played there, so was looking forward to checking out the venue too.

The gig was fantastic – playing mainly music from Mark’s latest album Moving Air, with Mark, Julian Siegel , Steve Buckley and Rob Townsend on saxes and bass clarinets, Martin France on drums John Parricelli on guitar and Dudley Phillips on bass.

Mark has a very distinctive writing style, that can be traced all the way back to the tunes he wrote for seminal british jazz outfit, Loose Tubes in the mid 80s. The horn arrangements are stunningly beautiful, and he made full use of the dynamic possibilities of having four horns on stage. Parricelli was on rare form, playing beautifully and blending with the sound of the horns magnificently.

Fortunately, the room was packed, and the audience were hugely appreciative. It’d be mad to suggest that Britain was in any way deficient in the jazz world – I guess the problem, as it is in most parts of the world, is a lack of places to play anything other than standards. The main jazz gigs in London are restaurant gigs, with venues like The New Vortex and Ronnie Scott’s doing their bit to promote interesting vibrant music. It’s still tough to find a gig, moreso now that the foyer gigs are the Festival Hall are on hold while the renovate the building.

So, in the spirit of last night’s gig, I’m going to offer you a beginner’s guide to the British Jazz scene – a handful of essential CDs that prove our place alongside the Americans and Scandinavians, while still all sounding uniquely British…

– The obvious place to start is with Theo Travis – his last two quartet CDs, Heart Of The Sun and Earth To Ether are both outstanding.
– Next up would be Ben Castle – his last album Blah Street is marvellous – clever, funny and intelligent in all the right ways.
– Of course Mark Lockheart who inspired this list in the first place – his latest, Moving Air is fabulous.
– And then there’s Mo Foster – any of his records are worth getting, but particularly Time To Think is gorgeous.
– Another one featuring Mark Lockheart, the Works is Patrick Wood’s amazing quartet – what Weather Report would have sounded like if they’d grown up in London. Beware Of The Dog is one of my favourite instrumental albums from any part of the world, not just the UK.

If you were to buy that lot (and I think you should), you’d have a pretty decent representation of why I’m excited about the future of British music, rather than wallowing in the despair that would ensue from burying yourself in the world of X-Factor, Pop Idol and the lame faecal mountain that is the pop charts.

Soundtrack – some tracks that I’ve been recording over the last three days with american fretless guitarist, Ned Evett – some really really cool stuff (to add to the stockpiles of other really really cool stuff that are sitting here waiting to be released!) – hopefully I’ll have an MP3 taster or two for you soon from this lot…

A picture speaks a thousand words…

Picture nabbed from Jyoti’s blog.

Yup, that’s an old bloke – Walter Wolfgang, 82 years old, who came to England as a Jew persecuted under the Nazis. At the Labour Party conference, he was bodily thrown out for shouting ‘nonsense’ during Jack Straw’s (Jack Boot?) speech on Iraq.

So not only are the Govt still trying to defend the disaster in Iraq, they are throwing out old men for disagreeing – he wasn’t being threatening or rowdy, or winding up ready throw a fresh dog turd at Straw (oh, that he had!), he just disagreed. But no, under New Labour such things are not allowed. And what’s more, he was prevented from re-entering the hall under the new Anti-Terror Laws!! WTF?? Since when was ‘nonsense’ hate-speech, or incitement to blow shit up, or whatever?

Blair’s half-arsed apology this morning was an embarrassment – a pathetic attempt to shrug off common assault taking place in the name of his party stifling dissent.

This quote from the Guardian sums up the government’s response

Returning to the scene today, Mr Wolfgang received a round of applause from both the conference floor and from party members standing outside. However, the two cabinet ministers on stage at the time, Lord Falconer and David Miliband, refused to join in.

Of course they refused – how could they applaud the exposing of a deeply flawed spin-machine-decision? They’d probably get thrown out of the cabinet.

in contrast, “Later, in his closing speech to conference, the defence secretary, John Reid, apologised to Mr Wolfgang with the prime minister applauding from the stage.” – that’s right, applaud the controlled written apology, worded to try and make light of the whole thing. But don’t join in with the rank and file plebs as they show support for an old man assaulted by hired goons.

How long are the labour party members going to put up with this?? The general public in Britain are on the whole way too apathetic to do anything about it on a national level, but those inside the Labour party who’ve seen their beloved institution stolen out from under them and replaced with some kind off hybrid ‘psuedo-compassionate Thatcherism’. It’s hideous, it’s tragic and it’s wrong.

The berk who man-handled Walter should be tried for assault, as should whoever decided on that as a policy. Wouldn’t it be great to have seen a mass walkout in protest? You bet your arse if it had happened in France that’s what they’d have done.

Too many white acts at Live 8?

A lot of news sources today have been reporting the accusation that the Live 8 bill for the UK gig is almost exclusively white – with Mariah Carey being the only person with any non-white genes on the stage (Maria is mixed race).

The response from the organisers was to first say that “Bob Geldof approached a number of urban and black artists to participate.” – that’s fair enough.

They went on to say “We look upon Live 8 as one global concert. A number of urban acts in the UK are hugely talented but they are not well known in Paris or Rome.”…

right, let’s have a look at some of the artists playing in the other venues –

Eiffel Tower, Paris includes Yannick Noah, Calo Gero, Kyo, Axelle Red, Johnny Halliday, Renaud – I’ve heard of Johnny Halliday, but there’s no way he can be described as international. He’s huge in France and unknown elsewhere. And he’s shit.

Circus Maximus, Rome includes Irene Grandi, Jovanotti, Nek, Laura Pausini, Vasco Rossi, Zucchero – clearly all big stars in Italy, but international???

So, drop the patronising crap about ‘UK Urban artists’ and represent. There are loads of people that could do it. If they want to reach out to everyone, why not book AR Rahman or Ashe Bhosle, and make the Indian community feel like they are a part of this (and expose the hopeless Sting and Elton John fans to something worth listening to). There are loads of people they could get in there.

I’m really into the idea of the gig, I love the fact that it’s about raising awareness not money, and that it’s going to get millions and millions of people thinking about issues of trade law reform and debt relief instead of just aid, but they’ve got to realise that there are more than enough white rock dinosaurs on the bill, and it needs to be a day for recogising not only Africa’s needs, but Africa’s strength and culture – so get some great African artists on the London show, and ditch one of the 80s losers.

SoundtrackJason Feddy, ‘Is This Thing On?’.

Beware Of The Dog

No, we haven’t just got a Dog (the fairly aged felines are particularly glad about that) – it’s the title of the new album from The Works, who used to be known as Woodworks, and are the brainchild of keyboard/guitar genius, Patrick Wood. Pat and I have played together a fair bit – it was fun getting him into my method of ‘spontaneous composition’ and we ended up with some fab stuff recorded, that still needs to be mixed and edited properly.

Anyway, this is his quartet, with Mark Lockheart on sax, Neville Malcom on bass and Nic France on drums – all major players on the London jazz scene – and it is, almost without doubt, the best album I’ve heard come out of that scene for ages. Actually, it’s on a par with Theo’s last couple of albums – which are equally amazing.

The compositions are quite Zawinul/Shorter-ish in places, but with a really strong singer/songwriter sensibility to them, which obviously connects well with me. It’s beautifully recorded, perfectly crafted, and has all four players playing right at the top of their game.

If anyone ever suggests that BritJazz is somehow inferior to US jazz, this is the album to play them to prove them wrong. If Patrick was from New York, this’d be selling tens of thousands of copies.

It’s fab, and you really need to get it. I’m going to talk to Pat about stocking it in my online shop.

Talking of which, I’ll have John Lester’s CD up there before too long.

SoundtrackThe Works, ‘Beware Of The Dog’.

Make Poverty History campaign goes global.

So finally, the Make Poverty History campaign is spreading out across the planet – in the US, it’s the One campaign, with its own white wrist bands and choice celebs. Click here to check out the One video – it’s good (though it did make me balk seeing Pat Robertson on it… guess it just goes to show how far this campaign is stretching across political divides!)

And that’s not all – there are now nationally focussed campaigns in Germany, France, Canada – Click here to see a list of all the partner campaigns

No excuses not to get involved, people…

Soundtrack – Kings X, ‘Live’; Talk Talk, ‘Spirit Of Eden’; Stevie Wonder; ‘Songs In the Key Of Life’; Renaud Garcia Fons, ‘Entremundo’; Tom Waits, ‘Asylum Years’; Bobby McFerrin, ‘The Voice’.

Can't get started.

Just got back (well, ‘just’ meaning late Saturday night) from a lovely week in the south of france. Enjoyable holiday, and a chance to brush up on my v. rusty french. Really ought to go there more.

The problem with holidays is getting started again when you get back. It’s especially tricky this time as on Saturday afternoon, just before we got the plane back, I tripped over on Nice beach, grazed my shin and have strained the muscles in my arms and shoulders. So I’m aching lots, and tired from the journey, and out of sync with what I was doing before I went away.

Sunday was a Soul Space service at St Luke’s, which was lots of fun – more ambient noodling, which is always a creative pursuit. Ambient church services are a great place for trying stuff out like that as it gives that elusive musical element – context. Playing ambient music in my stupidly untidy office is pretty tough, so I need to tap into other things to inspire whatever I’m working on. In a space like the chancel at St Luke’s, with cool projections, low lighting, candles and a theme (this week was the road to Emmaus), there’s something to play for, something to soundtrack, something to be inspired by. I had planned to record it, but the lead that connects my mixing desk to the minidisc player was needed to plug a laptop into my set up in order to play a couple of tracks off CD.

So now I’m trying to get working. I’ve got normal stuff to do, like buying birthday cards (seems almost everyone I know was born in April), and some food shopping, as well as things to do with next week’s gigs and other stuff.

WAKE UP STEVE!!

SoundtrackSteve Lucas, ‘Gamma Jazz’; Muriel Anderson, ‘Heart Strings’; Andrew Cronshaw, ‘Ochre’.